The NFL shield has taken on a whole new meaning.
The logo that Commissioner Roger Goodell made it his mission to protect when he took office a decade ago? It’s just something for the league’s owners and operatives to hide behind so no person or group of people ever has to face the music.
Behind The Shield, the men and women who talk publicly about doing the right thing and hiring the best and brightest cut shady deals, settle scores, scratch backs, twist arms and try to maximize every revenue trickle in pursuit of Roger Goodell’s promised $25 billion annual revenue goal.
Under Goodell the league and its owners have conducted themselves so poorly that we’re left to cynically scrutinize every bout of the NFL seeming to do the right thing with the question: “What’s their angle?” eye.
And almost without fail, the league lives down to our expectations.
So, protect The Shield? You bet your ass. That’s fortification for the walled city that is 345 Park Avenue. It protects actual humans from facing the music and explaining how mind-numbing outcomes like the one we’re witnessing in the Josh Brown case came to pass.
Who decided to trim Brown’s suspension for domestic violence from the baseline of six games down to one?
The “NFL” – that nameless, faceless, three-letter monolith is usually the entity cited. When it gets personal, it becomes “Goodell” and for $30M a year, he’ll take the slings and arrows as the face of the league knowing that – cowering behind him – are 31 owners who pay him precisely for that reason.
Instead of understanding that real, genuine transparency is the best way to rebuild public trust, the league sits mum or dissembles.
We get some mealy-mouth Goodell explanation uttered to the BBC while the NFL is priming the pump for expansion in Europe that insinuates we’re boobs who can’t understand the rigorous process the NFL goes through in humiliating itself.
And we get what passes for a mea culpa from Giants owner John Mara about the team thinking it was doing the right thing but being misguided in that belief.
No specifics. No rationale. Just a shrug and a “We bleeped up…” with no outward signals at all of introspection.
And that’s it.
So, we never hear from the NFL’s senior advisor in charge of overseeing investigations, Lisa Friel. She was hired precisely to ensure there wasn’t a repeat of the Ray Rice case in which the NFL was unable (or unwilling) to uncover evidence that later surfaced and caused the league immeasurable embarrassment. We never hear from B. Todd Jones, who was reportedly put in charge of making “initial disciplinary ruling for off-field misconduct” in 2015.
We never hear from Kia Wright Roberts, reportedly installed a year ago as the NFL’s Director of Investigations.
We never hear from T&M Protection Resources, the Park Avenue security firm to which the NFL apparently farmed out the Brown investigation or the investigators there who kept calling and emailing the Kings County Sheriff’s Office regarding Brown but – hell – couldn’t get an answer.
We never get an explanation as to why Friel, Jones, Roberts, Mara or Goodell himself couldn’t hop a plane to Seattle to sit down across a desk from Sheriff John Urquhart and get guidance the Sheriff said he would have given.
“I would have said exactly the same thing, ‘We cannot release the case file.’ But since this is a hot-button item in the NFL, since it’s the NFL, we probably would have told them orally a little bit more about what we had.” Urquhart said last week after the NFL tried to scapegoat his office for not giving the NFL information. “But we don’t have them calling us here. We’ve got some goofus from Woodinville named Rob Agnew asking for the case file. We have no idea who he is.”
Who does? If the buck was really stopping with all the people the league hired to tighten up investigations and off-field conduct, wouldn’t one of them be running point not Rob Agnew? Certainly, it would have been worth the time, effort and headache in hindsight, wouldn’t it?
One person has put up her hand and tried to give a little illumination as to the process. Natalie Ravitz, a Senior VP of Communications, who took to Twitter last week and defended the NFL’s investigative efforts. Briefly. And nothing since.
I wrote in August that the NFL needed to be transparent in explaining why they cut Brown’s suspension from six games to one.
What mitigating circumstances were there?
They didn’t explain then and that leads to cynical, presume-the-worst reactions like mine. They were hiding.
As in the Rice case when Ravens owner Steve Bisciotti lobbied on Rice’s behalf, Goodell and his operatives allowed one of their bosses – Mara – to hold sway. They all deferred and where are they now?
I imagine Friel, Jones and Wright are sick to their stomachs over how this played out. I have to believe these people – who built outstanding careers in law enforcement before the NFL glommed onto them and put them in their web – are humiliated this happened on their watch.
I’m sure they’ve got an explanation that may not make everything right but would at least be enlightening enough to somehow restore a little trust that there are capable people involved in the process that messed up.
Goodell and his operatives shouldn’t be explaining to the league’s owners behind closed doors and in hushed tones how this went wrong. They should be at a long table in front of microphones explaining to a public that’s lost faith in it what they’ll do to get it back.
Yet still they hide behind The Shield.